Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 13, 2017
Two days ago, the newest games in the IL-2 Sturmovik series received a major update to include Virtual Reality support. On top of that, they went on sale. I’ll just post a link now and get that out of the way. Because the sale is almost over:
Adding VR to an existing game is fraught with peril, but in the case of simulators (where you are largely in a cockpit), it’s a bit easier. There’s a big problem when it comes to simulators’ dependence on the keyboard. Finding the right keys (or button) on a device can be a challenge. I know this all too well… it’s part of my day job nowadays.
(Here’s a killer idea for peripheral makers… create a mixed-reality keyboard that tracks in VR, and can detect hand / finger positions above the keys, and will reflect that and key presses in the virtual version. Maybe it’s niche, but dang it would be useful…)
Anyway, I couldn’t resist. I’ve loved the IL-2 series from way back, especially once they started mixing in more aircraft from other countries. I still play IL-2: 1946 irregularly. It’s easy to just load up the quick mission editor, set up a one-on-one or a gigantic furball, and have at it. It still looks halfway decent.
Now that the new IL-2 engine powering Battle of Stalingrad and the stand-alone add-on Battle of Moscow (collectively referred to as BoX) has matured, the series has clearly achieved a whole new level of graphical awesomeness. The nice thing about older-era aircraft is that you can fly lower and slower enough to enjoy it.
The games are on sale this week (you still have a day or so left!), so between that and the VR, it sealed the deal. Installation was (and is) a pain in the butt, because it uses a distributed download system that starts out fast and ends up in a trickle. Stopping it and restarting the launcher several times solved the problem, but that’s annoying. When the last gigabyte is trickling in at speeds an old 1200 baud modem could handle, something is seriously wrong.
The other problem I ran into in VR was failing to turn off the HUD. This was causing frame-rates to drop well below 90 in many situations. I tried turning down the graphics quality, but the problem was only lessened. The real trick was turning off the HUD, at which points the framerates became stable for me. Setting stuff up so that the important controls (for a dogfight) are on the joystick is another issue. I still hate lifting up the visor and hitting “P” to unpause the game at the beginning of a mission… I kept forgetting to remap that key.
So… it was a slow beginning. Made slower the first night by leaving the HUD up and making myself a little sick as the frames took a nose-dive, usually at the same time that I was looking sideways (a problem anyway) to look at a smoking, damaged, high-detail bomber. My advice from a friend when I first started getting into VR was “when you get the sweats, take a break.” A half-hour break is good enough for me usually if I catch it early. If I try and push through another five or ten minutes, I’ll mess myself up for hours. Have I mentioned that I’m susceptible to VR sickness? I am. I hate it.
Turning off the HUD the second night did the trick. I tweaked a few other parameters, but that made the biggest difference.
I have no screenshots of playing this game in VR, and if you are familiar with virtual reality, you know that no screenshots can do VR justice. No video does VR justice. It’s The Matrix… you have to see it for yourself. But from another half-hour or so of playing, I can say that this game survived the translation very well. In a game like DCS, you can sometimes move your head around and see that they didn’t design the cockpit for VR… at some angles certain areas look like painted cardboard. Not to rip on DCS… it’s fantastic and improving all the time. Maybe I’ll start noticing problems after a couple more hours inside the virtual skies. But in the 1940s, all the instruments were analog, electro-mechanical devices with a physical presence. This pops in VR. Big-time.
The whole cockpit is a cramped, detailed environment with an almost overwhelming reach-out-and-touch-it feel. One of the coolest aspects is moving my head around to aim down the optical gun sight. At the wrong angle, the crosshairs are invisible or distorted. (The picture to the right seems sparse, but you get the idea).
The nausea-inducing part of it is the necessity to keep your head on a swivel, just like real life. At least I only have the weight of the VR visor to contend with, and not the weight of multiple gravities in a high-speed turn. When I’m looking in a different direction than I’m moving… well, in intense situations, that induces nausea for me in real life, but in VR its worse because the rest of the physical feedback isn’t there. But you reall MUST. I kept finding myself trying to hit the HAT control to look over my shoulder, but that doesn’t work here. I have to physically look back, even twist in my seat, to keep an eye on the other aircraft. This is how you fly and fight. It can make me sick, but I LOVE IT.
Passing by a large aircraft (like a bomber) is absolutely amazing in VR. I always have trouble judging ranges in flight sims, but in VR this is not a problem. I can tell when we’re about to brush wingtips. I feel like could pop back the canopy and spit at them. I won’t, because I’d either leave a mess on the wall to my left, or spit on my wife at her desk beside me, and that would end my VR excursions forever.
The audio is well worth mentioning here, too. Especially in VR with headphones on, you can see, hear, and feel when a wing is about to stall. The sound of the airflow changes. It’s subtle, but WOW. When a bullet breaks a hole in the cockpit and the air is whistling in, you feel like you are there. When damage causes the engine to suddenly seize up and it’s suddenly dead quiet except for the sound of the airflow around your newly-made glider… it’s as intimidating as it should be. And yes, THEN the sound of the air telling you when you are about to stall or you are near the edge of your performance envelope really becomes critical, and it just WORKS.
Bottom line: There are very few ways to make this experience feel more real, aside from putting you in a real cockpit on a motion platform (or in the air). Video cards and headsets will improve. I could improve my peripherals for better controls. But this was the kind of experience I dreamed of back in the early 1990s playing flight sims when 256-color VGA was the hot new thing.
Now I want my giant robot mecha simulator in VR…
Filed Under: Flight Sims, Virtual Reality - Comments: 2 Comments to Read